Tony and Brendan have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. Brendan tends to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, their paths cross, but like most readers, they tend to stay in their own lanes.
New To You Comics is here to break up the pattern a little. Tony will throw some of his favorites at Brendan, and Brendan will hit Tony with some of his. Every NTYC title is brand new to one of them. Every once in a while a title will land with both of them. Not always. Sometimes. Twice. It happened twice.
This week, Brendan introduces Tony to Archie Comics’ Blossoms 666 Vol 1, by Cullen Bunn, Laura Braga, Matt Herms, and Jack Morelli. Here’s what Archie Comics says about the book:
‘Cheryl and Jason Blossom are a pair of seemingly normal kids in Riverdale. They’re wealthy, popular and likeable-but they also harbor a deep, dark secret. One of the Blossom Twins is the Anti-Christ. Both want the title, and no one in Riverdale is safe.’
Brendan Allen: We did Vampironica a while back, and I remember you being shocked that I hadn’t read the thing yet. To be honest, I didn’t take much of a look at any of the Archie horror until Cullen Bunn pulled up on this one. When you get a writer who’s so well established in the genre participating, there must be something there, right?
Blossoms 666 opens in the morgue, then transitions to Riverdale High, where “It’s not quite summer vacation yet.” The rich and gorgeous Blossom twins are throwing a huge party, and they are pulling strings all over the place to make sure everyone can make it. Everything seems pretty “Archie” so far, right? Except that morgue thing.
The tone shifts pretty quickly, and there are several WTF moments that will make you go back to that opening sequence and wonder who’s under that blood spattered sheet.
What did you think?
Tony Thornley: Look, I didn’t know who the Blossoms were until I read Archie Vs Predator and their creepy, slightly incest-y vibe (even in the extremely G-rated Archie stuff) quickly put them near or at the top of my favorite Archie characters list.
Brendan: They weren’t really around until recently. Cheryl was introduced in the classic series back in 1982 as a third love interest for Archie, like that situation needed muddying further. Then she and Jason had all but disappeared just a couple years later, because her storylines were deemed a little too sexual in nature for what was at the time still pretty exclusively a children’s’ series.
Tony: Yeah, and then she showed back up pretty regularly a bit later. Jason and Cheryl are the worst and I love them for it. So to see Bunn and Braga just lean into that for five issues? Make them literal hellspawn? That’s just fun.
Brendan: I was really reticent to get into this ‘new Archie’ stuff, especially the horror specials. Once I finally jumped that first hurdle and committed to reading an Archie horror book, I got into it pretty quickly. Bunn and Co. take the most wholesome apple pie community in American pop culture and slowly tighten the screws, turning the whole place on its ear before anyone notices. There are red flags throughout, but nothing really screams danger until the situation is too far gone to reel back in. It’s a classic boiling frog.
Tony: I agree. This was definitely based on a Riverdale that was closer to the TV show or the “new look” Archie stuff, which was a good move. It makes the city feel real and quaint, yet not childish or naive. I really think Riverdale is one of those settings like Gotham City or New York in Spider-Man– it’s as much a character in the story as the human beings who populate it. Bunn does a really good job with that, which isn’t a surprise considering how well most of his books have a sense of “place.”
Brendan: One of the things I love about Bunn joints is his attention to interpersonal relationships, specifically between siblings. We saw that play out in Bone Parish, too. The Blossoms have this whole Kathryn Merteuil/Sebastian Valmont dynamic, without the blatant incest, and with infinitely higher stakes. I love everything about their secret sibling rivalry for the dark throne.
Tony: Yeah, this was very much a scheming and power grabbing sort of story. The thing about it for me is that the whole “winner takes the title of Anti-Christ” plot is that it could have been any sort of winner takes all conflict. This story would have still worked because of how well Bunn wrote that interplay. But add the “harbinger of the Apocalypse” element to it, and suddenly it’s a horror book. Honestly, it’s probably better for that.
My goodness does the whole thing get gruesome too. I’m actually surprised the only gore that the story shied away from was showing Reggie Mantle’s body! (Also, the best thing about Archie horror books has to be that Reggie gets it first EVERY TIME.)
Brendan: Does he? I have only read this one and the Vampironica we did before. If so, that is a brilliant callback to the original series, where that dude is the low-key villain in EVERY storyline.
Tony: Oh yeah, if I’m remembering right he gets eaten like… immediately in Jughead the Hunger, and he’s the stereotypical guy who gets bitten by a zombie and hides it in Afterlife With Archie. I think he might make it through Vampironica but does get turned, but I’d have to re-read it to be sure.
Brendan: He would absolutely be the type of dude to hide a zombie bite. That’s so great. We should probably hit up some of the other series at some point, then?
Tony: Without a doubt.
Brendan: I really like the art here, too. Most of the shock value is owing to the art by Laura Braga and Matt Herms. Aesthetically, this fits right in with other current Archie Comics titles, which intensifies the betrayal when it takes a hard left into the occult. Everything checks out, right up until the point where it doesn’t. The violence and blood just kind of show up, and it’s intentionally jarring.
Tony: Braga draws it really well, but Herms deserves so much credit for his color work here. He uses red sparingly (except for the Blossoms’ hair) so the red starts to creep in every time it’s about to get scary, then there’s a violent splash of it. It’s SO effective.
But Braga? She just does a great job. Bunn relies on her a lot of the tension and atmosphere. She paces each conversation and confrontation perfectly that even the really mundane stuff comes off as unsettling. Her use of the point of view is also great. Her layouts evoke horror movie cinematography, then she zooms right in tight on a face and a reaction, and it works.
Brendan: Blossoms 666 works so well as an Archie special, but would absolutely stand alone as its own horror series without the tie-in.
There’s been a noticeable shift in the genre over the last decade or so. The overly complex setups and implausible scenarios of the 80’s, 90’s and double aughts just don’t cut it any more. Readers are looking for a more grounded, real world approach. The scary stuff, stuff that will keep you up late at night, is the stuff that seems like it might actually happen in your everyday existence.
That’s where Blossoms 666 lives, just five degrees to the left of reality, where everything is just familiar and comfortable enough to make you squirm when someone starts messing with the rules. Watching characters you’ve known and loved for decades being manipulated into situations straight out of Needful Things will do it.
Where did you land on this one?
Tony: Overall, I liked it, but I did have one big problem. Clearly this was intended as “five issues and if it does well, there will be more.” However, the ending does fall a bit flat, which I don’t think is on the creative team, but its still a problem. There’s not much resolution. A big thing happens, but then it just sort of ends on a cliffhanger? From what I understand there’s not a follow-up scheduled either. So overall, it’s solid, and a very fun horror read, but it doesn’t TOTALLY stick the landing for me.
Brendan: It is kind of an abrupt ending, isn’t it? Kinda feels like they left it open for a sequel. It does wrap things up reasonably, though, and if they ever go back to this well, there’s plenty of meat left on the bone. God, I love mixed metaphors. Don’t cross the road if you can’t get out of the kitchen.
What’s up next from your queue?
Tony: We’re diving back into fantasy realms, with a book that’s an interesting counterpoint to my last choice. It’s The Autumnlands by Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey!